UCSF Lecture Takes on the Science of Food

By Kristen Bole

For acclaimed chef and restaurateur Corey Lee, preparing the perfect boiled egg — with a soft-solid white and a creamy yolk — is a science, monitored precisely in a laboratory-designed water bath at 64˚ C.

But if you ask David Weitz, PhD, a professor of applied physics who teaches the popular Harvard University course, “Science and Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to the Science of Soft Matter,” that same egg could just as successfully be “cooked” — denatured — in a strong acid or base. You just wouldn’t want to eat it afterward.

Lee and Weitz came together at UCSF this spring for the 2012 Chauncey D. Leake Lecture, in which they performed lively demonstrations and discussions on the physics behind emulsions and gels, including Lee’s acclaimed faux shark-fin soup and other novel preparations (see full lecture).

The 2012 Leake lecture was organized by Wendell Lim, PhD and Connie Lee, PhD, in the UCSF Center for Systems & Synthetic Biology, who are working with Chef Lee to understand how the creativity and core technologies behind modern bioscience and haute cuisine can inform and inspire further creative approaches in each other.  

Lee, who owns the renowned Benu restaurant and was previously chef de cuisine at French Laundry, has received widespread recognition for his mastery of haute cuisine, including the James Beard Award and acclaim for French Laundry as the “Best Restaurant in North America” by Restaurant Magazine.

The annual Leake lecture series is sponsored by the UCSF departments of Cellular & Molecular Pharmacology and Anesthesia in honor of Chauncey Leake, founding chair of the UCSF Department of Pharmacology, who was recruited to UCSF in 1928 by Dean R. Langley Porter and served the University for 30 years.

Leake was one of the first to discover the relevance of chemical structure to the biological activity of drugs and was known not only as a scientist and medical historian, but as a poet, teacher, administrator and passionate bibliophile. In addition to pharmacology, Leake taught the first formal UCSF course in the history of medicine in 1929, which led to the creation of the Department of Medical History the following year.

Past lecturers in the series honoring Leake include such luminaries as Jared Diamond, Melvin Calvin, Floyd Bloom, Daniel Koshland, Michael Bishop, Harold Varmus, Bruce Alberts and Zach Hall.